It’s Never as Easy as it Looks

When I started taking my practice tests for taking the theory test in preparation for getting my driving license, I was failing ALL of them – miserably. I believed it’s because the translations from Spanish to English for each of the questions/answers is wonky. But I persevered, while complaining bitterly. Jeff listened to my complaints and was less than sympathetic.

‘I took one of those free practice tests online when we first got here. I passed it without doing any reading. I’m not sure why this is so hard for you – you’re making too big a deal of it. I think I could just sign up for the test and pass it on the first try.’

Did that make me feel good? No – it did not. But maybe he was right, I thought. Then I wondered if I wasn’t as smart as I had thought I was. Was my brain calcifying? Was it early onset Alzheimers? I would read some of these crazy questions and even crazier answers out to him and he acted like it was a piece of cake.

‘You just need to read the questions slowly. I think you’re going too fast and you’re missing it when they say ‘Always’ or ‘Never’. Those are the words they tell you to be on the lookout for when taking tests.’

I would look up at him from my chaise – ready to throw a lamp or my phone at him, thinking ‘Patronizing asshole – this joker has not a clue!’ but also ‘Has all the grey matter from my brain disappeared?’

Fast forward to this week. El Jefe is using the same online practice tests I did. It’s the best one out there because they have the actual tests that you could experience when taking the theory test at the DGT office in the rice fields. But driving licenses are in my rear view mirror and I am busy editing my book, so I’ve been super focused on that. When he randomly emerges from the office it startles me.

‘What the HELL?! Have you seen some of those questions? (Is he kidding?) I have to take a break. This is crazy! I missed 6 tests in a row! SIX! It’s like they want you to fail. I think you can only miss 5 questions to pass (actually it’s 3, but who’s counting). Here, let me read one of these out to you. You tell me what you think the answer might be.’

Oh, how I wanted to say a simple ‘I told you so.’ And remind him of his ‘I think you’re making this harder than it needs to be.’ But I just listen to his rant. While my inner dialogue is Gloat, Gloat, Gloating. I want to hold up that piece of paper that I keep in my wallet that says ‘Provisional’ driving license and use it to fan myself. I want to display my giant ‘L’ prominently on the side board, and say ‘Wait – didn’t I already pass this test?’ But I do none of those things.

He reads me the offending question and awaits my response. Without hesitating I tell him the correct answer ‘Animals can only be on the right side of the road.’ I say with total dead pan – returning to my laptop.

He looks stunned. ‘But look at the picture. It shows animals running all over. So clearly they can be anywhere.’

I shake my head without looking up – or I know I’ll laugh. ‘You need to understand. When they ask you something with ‘can’ – what they mean is ‘allowed’. It’s pretty simple once you figure that out.’

He is stunned.

‘Oh, and never, ever go by the photo. That will trip you up every time. The photo has nothing whatsoever to do with the answer.’ And then I return to my manuscript while listening to him make the ‘Eh!’ sound, fling his arms in the air, and then marching back into the office like a teenager.

I’ve never been one to celebrate another person’s lack of success. It’s not in my nature. But this moment – just this moment – I’m going to allow myself that most human of emotions by delighting in what will certainly be his temporary defeat. And whispering to myself, more than a few times ‘Oh wait, I told you so.’

No Passa Nada

I know some people who moved here after we did. They had been reading my blog and told me, on more than one occasion, ‘All we had to do was ask ourselves ‘What would Kelli do?’ and then do the exact opposite’. Sure, I’m pretty clear I’ve made some mistakes, but it’s all learning. That’s what moving to another country, and life, is all about. And in the end, I’m pretty happy with where we’ve landed and the life we’ve made for ourselves in Valencia. So it’s all good. No one else has to agree with it – but then, they’re not me, with my life goals.

The ‘L’ isn’t for ‘Lovely’ – but it should be.

I must have done something right, though, because after 6 driving lessons, today I passed my practical driving exam. That’s right, Valencia – look out cause there’s a new driver on the road and she’s fully qualified on these crazy streets we call call home. I’m about to embrace all the wonderful driving habits I’ve witnessed on a daily basis. Mad Max and his Thunderdome has nothing on these people. And now I’m one of them. Shooting across an 8 lane roundabout without lines, sailing off to my third exit from center lane like a pro, while yielding on a red with a yellow flashing arrow. A total piece of Santiago cake. I’m pretty sure I’ve used up some of that dispensation of sins I got when I picked up my Compostella in Santiago in July 2017. Oh well, I’ll just have to walk another one.

And once again, I am rated ‘Apto’ – ‘Suitable’ in Spanish. And Apto is good enough to drive in The Octagon that is Valencia city. I collected my placcard at the Autoescuela this afternoon. For the next year I will be sporting a large ‘L’ on the back of the car I have yet to purchase. It’s to warn everyone that I’m still a ‘Learner’.  But when I think about it, maybe I should have had that plastered to my ass for the last year to warn others to ‘Look out – she’s ‘learning’ to live in Spain!’ Because moving to Valencia has been a lot like going to school. You start out in Moving-to-Spain kindergarten knowing nothing but how to take naps and eat snacks. Then one day you graduate from How-to-Navigate-Valencian-Bureaucracy High School, wondering where the time went and hoping for an advanced degree in your future.

What I’m most looking forward to is driving outside the city. I can’t wait to get to my first uphill, mountainous, one lane road resplendent with a donkey cart and a cement truck and some random cliff-side road work, so I can test out my knowledge of uphill right of ways in real time. Until then, I’ll stick to the city where I can hone my skills on ‘Las Glorietas’ heading out to Shopping City.

In a week I get my provisional license and within the month my new official license will arrive from Madrid. Now I move on to the next thing. Our visa renewal and then, maybe, just maybe my scooter license. But for today I’ll raise a glass with friends and toast to being an ‘Apto Learner’ Spanish licensed driver. And that feels pretty damned good.

And Now We Wait

This morning I made my way to the Autoescula across town, where I have been taking my driving lessons. At 10 am we went to the starting ground for the practical driving exam. It was time.

On a wall I saw ‘Nunca sabras de lo que eres capaz hasta que lo intentes.’ by Charles Dickens. In Ingles it means ‘You never know what you are capable of until you try.’ I decided that’s all I really was there to do – try.

I agreed to go first. Someone else in the school was taking a motorcycle test there too. But he would go after me. I’m not going to say it was my best day. My usual clutch work wasn’t as smooth at I would have liked. In the US they don’t judge that part, but here it’s all part of the exam points so I’m sure I lost some for that.

I only had one real error and she explained it after. She said that alone wasn’t a disqualifying error, so I am not sure if I passed or not. But I certainly tried. My teacher thinks I still passed but he said we won’t know until noon tomorrow.

In the end, even if I have to take it again, at least I gave it a shot. I was very nervous and you could tell I wasn’t alone. Plenty of other people were pacing and biting their nails. Because, well, driving in Valencia – especially in the area where you take the test, it very difficult. Narrow streets, blind right of ways, zebra crossings aplenty, lights in roundabouts, go-rights-to-go-lefts, and more. My teacher said other people from Spain move here and they take lessons to drive specifically in Valencia, because it’s so crazy.

If I could have gotten some extra credit for learning ‘Driving Spanish’ I would have rocked that! Because I know I was the only person there who had to test with a language handicap today. Its amazing what you can understand when you’re stressed out. Suddenly, every direction I was given was crystal clear. It’s like my brain decided to help me out for once. It opened the secret room where it’s been keeping all the Spanish input I’ve received in the last year and decided to give me 25 minutes of free reign, before slamming the door in my face again when the test was over. That’s probably why my clutch work was so bad. My brain can only do 75 things at once. And 76? No, something had to give – the clutch.

Now I just have to wait. Tonight I have try outs for my second soccer team so I’m on to the next thing to focus on. Today is all about just Trying with a capital ‘T’. And just celebrating that. Tomorrow is a whole other day. And I’ll worry about it then. I figure – if I passed, it’s just what Forrest Gump said. ‘Just one less thing.’

Zen and the Art of Learning to Drive in Spain: ‘This is why we can’t have nice things’

I don’t know much. But one thing I have learned after two driving lessons is that driving a stick is no big deal. Yup – only killed the engine once in an hour and a half, after stopping at a light and trying to start forward in 3rd gear.

Another thing I learned is that I drive like an American. As a practical matter, this is not a bad thing. But if I want to pass the Spanish driving test I need to unlearn nearly everything I was taught in Driver’s Ed in high school and have employed for the last 36 years.

When we are taught to drive in the US we hear ‘Head on a swivel’, don’t just trust your mirrors. Use them, of course, but also turn your head and check your blind spots. But in Spain, you only use your mirrors when changing lanes. If you turn your head you’ll fail the exam.

Part of passing the exam is theatre – I was advised today. While not twisting my head, I must exaggerate my examination of any zebra crossing so that the examiner sees I’m observing my surroundings, without actually turning my head. All while taking instruction from the examiner in Spanish.

Next, now that I’m a proficient manual transmission driver, I shall never downshift. This would mean I would be taking my hand off the wheel. And keeping my hands at 10 and 2 are of a top priority. I will use the brake and the clutch and then shift into a neutral position – never using the engine to slow the car.

Turning left in front of other cars must be done on the axis point of intersection. It may feel like I am going to run into the other cars but this is ‘normal’. And making a right turn, no free right turn. Only turn on green, but then immediately I must follow a second set of lights to determine if I can proceed.

Speaking of lights, where is the stop light? It’s not the one across the intersection on my side – where it has been in nearly every country I have ever driven in. Nope. If I stop at the line, it will be directly above me or on a pole on the side walk on either side of my car so I’ll have to crane my head to see it.

So, after everything I was worried about, the stick was the least of my concerns. And we haven’t covered parallel parking yet. Here they like to bump the other car’s bumpers, while shoe horning their car into a space that could be smallish – or it could be huge. But either way, there will be bumper bumping. It’s just the way it is.

Jeff was looking out of our apartment window down to the street and called me over to the window.

Not close enough

‘See. This is why we can’t have nice things. I’m not buying a nice car here. Every bumper is dinged, scraped or punctured. I’d freak out if we had any one of the cars we had back home.’

After the lessons, we rolled into the street in front of the Autoescuela. The instructor said I did really well. Apparently, I drive like someone whose had 5 lessons, so after our lesson tomorrow he will inform me how many more I’ll need. Then he told me that tomorrow he was sure I would be able to ‘not run any red lights’. I was a little taken aback.

‘I ran a read light?’ I asked. If so, he never said.

‘Just one.’ he smiled. ‘That’s very good.’

Then he bid me a hearty ‘Hasta Manana!’

It gave me a whole new appreciation for those Autoescuela cars I see everywhere, and it’s a reminder to give them a wide berth in the future.

I’m deep into it now and I’m going to see it through. The instructor told me all I have to do is ‘Fake it for 25 minutes.’ All I have to do, during the practical exam, is forget everything I know about driving and do everything my instructor is teaching me now. And then I can go back to driving like I know how to drive – of course finding all the stop lights and such.

And then I can buy a car that I won’t care about at all. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing – perhaps that’s the Zen part.

The Sun Also Rises

Time smooths out the rough edges of memory. Sometimes it makes the past seem rosier than, perhaps, it really was. We are home from Ireland. We were excited to spend Christmas in New Years in weather that felt like so many holidays of the past. Especially all the years we spent in Seattle. And it did.

But here’s the thing. Being back in Valencia it’s sunny and 65 degrees. And boy does it feel wonderful to be warm again. And Jeff, who really missed winter in Seattle (why, I don’t know) is happy to be warm too. Here, there is no bone-chilling wind. Hats and gloves have been put away. We can have our morning coffee without a coat and scarf again. It feels good.

We’ve hit the ground running too. We found a dentist and Jeff has already gone and seen them. I often hear that ‘socialized medicine’ means long lines and weeks of waiting for an appointment. We went yesterday to a clinic who had no idea who we were and he saw the dentist today. We anticipated it being much more difficult. So one more myth debunked.

This morning, I walked across the city to an Autoescuela that speaks English. Yes, these rarest of the rare actually do exist here in Valencia, like unicorns. You don’t see them and they don’t make themselves known. But my shot gun approach of talking to everyone I have ever met here about needing an English speaking Autoescuela to get practical lessons has paid off. Someone knew someone, who knew someone who once took lessons at a place where the instructor spoke English. And the lady there was surprised I got my theory test taken/passed all on my own without a school.

Next Tuesday morning I will be taking my first hour and half lesson to learn how to drive in Spain on a manual transmission. The woman who signed me up has as much English as I have Spanish (her husband – my instructor speaks English). She asked me what I was most wanting to focus on. I told her ‘manual transmissions and round abouts’. She nodded knowingly.

But at least I’ll be taking all my lessons in daylight. I feel very sorry for this man already and I haven’t even started. He has no idea what he’s in for. But his wife told me – via Google translate voice – that once I’m ready, passing the practical test in Spanish won’t be an issue. I asked her how many lessons she thought I would need. She said her husband would have to determine that, after a nervous laugh. Ugh.

I’ve also started gathering and filling out the paperwork for the residency renewal in March. Nothing like having a few balls in the air at the same time. But it seems like a much less arduous process than the original visa appointment. No Apostles – No background checks. Pretty straight forward. It seems the hardest thing so far is getting the government website to cough up an appointment time. It may require professional help to get it across the finish line.

Coming home to Valencia feels good. While we could speak the same language as the people in Ireland, it didn’t feel like home. It’s nice to be back to our grocery stores where we know we can get what we need. Where to get a haircut and our favorite coffee place. Poundland has nothing on our El Chino. I was disappointed in Derry when I didn’t get a gift with purchase beer upon leaving.

Our flight home was full of Irish students heading back to Universidad de Valencia after the break, and others like us. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief that at midnight when leaving our Metro station near our flat – it was still 55 degrees. Suddenly, the language barrier doesn’t seem so high anymore.

You Got This

The first day on my Camino – walking out of St. Jean, in southern France at the foot of the Pyrenees, I had no idea what I was in for. I had not really trained. But within an hour it would be abundantly clear to me I was in over my head. I stood at the foot of a very steep climb, the first of 100’s I would make in the next 5 weeks, up and out of the valley towards Honto. 

I remember looking up and I couldn’t see the top and was already winded from the hike out of the village. Others were sitting down on stumps at the side of the road – breathing hard, resting before they started up. I said out loud, to no one in particular ‘You have to be fucking kidding me. I can’t get up that!’ Those who heard me nodded in agreement or just kept going. Then I started to kind of hyper ventilate. But I also knew I couldn’t stay there. I had to start going up too. So I did.

It took me an hour to go no distance at all. I thought about camping out and sleeping there. If only I had known then, by the end of my Camino – 36 day’s later – I would be able to run up this little piece of nothing, backwards, with my fully loaded pack and my weekly grocery shopping,. But on this first day, I was panicking. And I also learned something about myself. Looking up and trying to gauge how far I had to go was unhelpful. It was UP – that’s all I needed to know. And the only way I was going to get to the top, was to put one foot in front of the other.

I also realized it was my feet that were going to get me over the mountain – or the hill. It was my brain that was getting in the way. I just needed to make sure I kept taking a step – not so hard. I also made a deal with myself. When I encountered these obstacles, I would allow my eyes to look up just once from the bottom, letting that panicky feeling wash over me. And then I’d look at my feet and not look up again. Asking ‘how much further’ was a fools errand. It was as far as it was going to be – and I had gone as far as I had, so far.

‘OK. We got this.’ I would say out loud. And then I would take the first step.

I am sitting here remembering this today, because some of the things I’ve had to figure out since, even before we moved to Valencia, have felt like that first climb up to Honto – and then on to Orrison, to collapse and get a bed for the night. Wondering what the hell I was doing. I’ve taken them each, one at a time. Sometimes it’s seemed like what we need to do is so daunting, confusing and never ending – and I’ll never figure it out. And then I remember that day. Being a big believer in talking to myself – out loud if need be – usually my self talk goes ‘You just gotta break it down. One step at a time and start at the beginning.’

I had been putting off getting my driving license. Driving in Spain seemed hard and scary. As an American, I’d heard from so many people it was a huge deal and an epic hassle and it was going to take forever – if I ever got it. I read so many forums and the requirements seemed impossible to fulfill. A medical/psych eval? Where do you get that? And where would I start to figure out how to make the appointment with the scary, unhelpful guard at the Jefatura? And even if I got one – how am I going to communicate? And the documents and forms required and all the copies? The rules are crazy with double negatives, and back flips, and if you don’t stick the dismount…? Yup – I’m mixing my metaphors. But don’t get me started on practical drivers training in Spanish.

Then one day – NOT driving, was getting harder than it seemed these tests would be. And on that day, I sat down – not on FB forums or expat websites where they tell you you’ll never be able to do it – and translated the ministry website. Guess what –  it wasn’t really that big a deal if you break it down. Then I signed up for practice tests online – and that was really helpful. Suddenly, rules that seemed Greek to me a few weeks before, started making sense. Carol sent me the English manual (Thank You!) and it all came together. Just like my Camino – one foot in front of the other.

And I’m happy to say that, while I’m not at my final destination (EU license in hand), I’ve climbed the first hill. Early yesterday morning, I took the taxi out to the trafico office in the middle of rice fields, with my appointment, and my plastic folder, and I took that test. Drum roll please…I passed my theory test! My result was ‘Apto, or Suitable! I’ve never been so happy to be just ‘Suitable’ in my life. Just 2 mistakes. I had one as a buffer for good measure. Now I can sign up for the driving instruction classes, and then take the practical test. Did I hyper ventilate a little before answering those 30 questions out of a possible 3500? Sure. I was less nervous taking the SAT’s. But once I started it wasn’t so bad. Just read and re-read one question at a time.

And I just conducted the official ceremony handing over the ‘English Driving Manual’ to El Jefe. He was happy I passed, but he seemed less than enthusiastic that he’s up to bat now. My fate in this life is to be the guinea pig, the crash test dummy or the canary in the coal mine. Take your pick. He will draft in my wake on this one. But his competitive spirit will kick in any day. I feel sure when he takes it he’ll strive to beat my 2 small mistakes.

There were a lot of lessons on my Camino – Em and I are doing the Portuguese this June, and I’m sure they’ll be many more. But I think the most important was the first one, in the first hour, of the first day. And like most things on the Camino, each subsequent one came at just the right time. At the moment of the lowest ebb, where you think you’re going to break. And then you don’t, and you find out how strong you really are. 

Challenges in life are big and small. Looking back, it’s been more than a year since we started this journey and the lessons of the Camino still ring in my head. Giving me small reminders every day ‘You got this’.

It was a dark and stormy night



Well, it was actually a dark and stormy afternoon. And it was the day that I realized the theme of this week should be ‘The Appointment to Make the Appointment’. We hit the ground running this week.




Our first annual medical exams since we’ve been here – actually, we were way past due before we left so it was time to go get a check up and all the commiserate tests. We’re both over 50 now so the tune up and oil change takes a little more work. Blood tests and ultra sounds. It requires multiple doctors and the process here is a little more round-trip intensive.




First, we go to the clinic to make the appointment because we can’t do it over the phone – being Spanishly challenged. Then we go to the appointment and meet with the doctor. Whichever doctor it is orders tests. We go to where we are going to have the tests. Then they tell you when you can return to pick up the results – they don’t just send it to the Dr. who ordered the tests. Then you pick up the results and return to the doctor to make an appointment to review your results. Etc. Rinse and Repeat.




Jeff got lucky this time because I went to our English speaking family practitioner first. I happened to mention that Jeff would be making an appointment himself to see him. The Dr. felt he would save him some time and gave me all the blood work orders for Jeff too. So he got to skip two steps right out of the gate. When he complained about going to the Dr. after his tests came back I wanted to punch him.




Today, I had an appointment to take the examination for the driving theory test at the Jefatura de Trafico. I made it the week before we left for Brazil online and I have spent every day since doing nothing but studying the book and taking the online practice tests.  OK, that and watching a Breaking Bad marathon but you can do both at the same time. I know I’m ready because I’m passing nearly every practice test I take. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the test of getting to the test.




I had even attempted a dry run. This week I had to go get my psychological/medical fitness certificate. The clinics are across the street from the Jefatura so I knew where to go. It took 10 minutes, during which time they asked if I was depressed, tested my eyes and made me play a video game where I had to keep the two bars on the screen inside the winding road. Twenty six euros later and I had my certificate.




Since I was right across the street, I thought I’d go check out the Jefatura de Traffico and learn the system and ask for the remaining forms I required. Just so I’d be ready today. The security guard is brutal on the ‘taking-of-the-number’ business. I was not getting past him to ask a small question – without the requisite appointment. So no dry run.




Today – test day – Jeff came with me and we went early. I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time. I’d gotten my passport photos at the machine in the subway and I had all the copies that Spanish bureaucracy requires. Everything in triplicate. But getting into the equivalent of the Department of Motor Vehicle early is not allowed. Seriously, you can’t get there early – just at your appointed predetermined time. While I was in line waiting to learn this little tidbit from the militant security guard, I found my Irish friend, Donna, happened to be in line in front of me. She was swapping her driving license out – because EU citizens just exchange theirs with a form and and fee. Me? I have to act like I’m 15 again.




So after our unceremonious booting out of the Jefatura (the guy actually wagged his finger at me and said ‘No!’), we went across the street with our tails between our legs to have a coffee and to wait until the machine, that gives you a number the security guard checks so very closely, will spit out a ticket that gives you the privilege to sit down and wait. And wait. And wait.




Finally, we decided to leave the safety of the cafe to brave ‘El Securidad’ once more, and success! The ticket has 3 letters and 3 numbers. Then you sit and wait, looking up at screens every time the bell goes ‘Ping!’, checking your ticket against the information on the screen. It’s like playing Keno. When other combinations would come up and it had a common letter or number to mine – Jeff would comment on it. When my number came I almost shouted out ‘BINGO!’ but he was on to me and whispered ‘Don’t do it.’ So I held back.




Up I went to the window with my documents and copies in my plastic folder. Just like everyone else here, you go to no official building without your plastic folder full of everything you have ever documented since the beginning of time – this can include your baptismal certificate. The gentleman who helped me was very nice. He looked at what I had brought and then took my Residencia/NIE card back to have it examined by someone else and they had a long discussion about it. I was having flashbacks to the Spanish Embassy in Los Angeles. If I had to conjure bank statements I was going to scream.




Then, he came back and brought forms with him. He typed alot, glued my photos to a form, and more typing. Then he asked me when I wanted to take my test. 




‘How about now?’ I told him. I’m not sure why he thought I was there.




‘Oh no. Today you pay. You take the examination on December 3.’ He looked at me confused that I didn’t know this was ‘the appointment to make the appointment’. The test will be at a place several miles outside of town in a couple of weeks.




What could I do? Storm off? It’s just how it is. But I was a little disappointed. I was ready. I was psyched up. I memorized the manual on two continents and 24 hours in the air. I had asked Jeff over the last 48 hours one hundred times if he thought I was going to pass. I peaked too soon! But now I have a packet of all the forms and everything I’ll need in a couple of weeks. I am resigned. Jeff was less than happy.




We went home on the subway and when we got to the Benimachlet metro stop it was clear that the storm outside had become something of an issue. The water was pouring  down the stairs like a waterfall. I hid my packet of precious stamped theory test documents – including my new appointment time – under my rain coat and made a run for it. I took a video so you could see how much rain we’re talking about.








I had thought about wearing my Hunter boots today. It was raining after all. But I just wore my little green rubber ankle Boggs. My go-to rain boots for a Seattle rain. Today, they were woefully inadequate. I needed fishing waders – no kidding. By the time we got home with the rain coming down sideways, both of us were soaked to the bone. Like someone had sprayed us with a hose for 5 blocks straight.




‘We have to stop!’ I shouted at him half way home from the Metro station.




‘Why? We can’t get any wetter!’ Jeff wisely shouted back. And of course, he was right. But everyone on the street was laughing. Movie rain is like that. We’re all in the same boat, or swimming in the same ocean, I guess.




When I got home, I saw this lithograph I had bought at an artist gathering in Sao Paolo and it made me smile. Something about it struck me at the time and I stuffed it in my already bulging bag for the trip home – Jeff just shaking his head. So today, it seemed appropriate since my own umbrella was in the exact same position. A premonition of sorts.







I’ll have to remember the lessons of this week when we start our residency renewal in a few months. And allow enough time to make ‘the appointment, to make the appointment’. Hopefully, that day it will be a little less wet.

It takes a Village

It’s Christmas in October! Carol Joyner – you are amazing! Today, all the way from Spain’s Northwest coast, a package arrived containing the English version of the Spanish driving regulations. And, as we all know, there are a lot of them as evidenced by the thickness of the tome of all things trafico.

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I’m taking the fact that the guy on the cover is holding up an Audi key as a sign to me that passing my ‘B’ permit is in my future. And the book looks well loved. When Carol told me that she had studied it thoroughly for 6 weeks prior to the test, I totally believe her. I’m living it. Because it’s so much information and the rules are so nuanced that it requires dedication, hours of concentration and gallons of coffee to successfully pass the test. And a few vino rosados after not a few sad failures in a row.

I’ve decided not to go to Madrid for the class. I’m taking it online right here in Valencia. And when I need to start practical lessons at an Autoescuela in Spanish, I have someone here from LA who speaks fluent Spanish and he’ll go with me on ride alongs to translate. It should be FUN! Well…maybe not, but I’m doing one thing at a time, so as not to get overwhelmed by the process. And the first thing will be to start reading this book as a supplement to my already growing knowledge of the rules of the road from my epic testing failures of the last couple of weeks. There’s always a silver lining.

Carol, let me know if you want the book back when I’m done. If not, I’ll pay it forward to the next American who is wading into the world of the Spanish driving license. For now, I’m well equipped to prepare for my test and when I do, I will be raising a glass to the friends who helped me get there. Muchas Gracias!!

Teaching the Test

I’m all over this driving test thing. Every day I’m taking the actual Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT) tests online. In the beginning, I was getting discouraged. I was successful somewhere in the 70% range and it was a morale killer. But I have persevered and now I’m either passing the actual tests or coming very close with only 4 mistakes.

I have learned a lot and not just about Spanish traffic laws. I’ve learned that ‘should’ and ‘must’ aren’t the same as ‘mandatory;. And ‘can’t’ or ‘shouldn’t’ isn’t the same as ‘prohibited’. In English, these mean the same things. In Spanish (or the translation) there’s a bit of trickery that will fool you every time until you start to spot these words and realize you’re about to be duped for the 400th time. Damn you, DGT test! You’ll not get me again. Fool me 400 times, shame on you. Fool me for the 401st – shame on me.

And if there are two answers that look, and actually mean the same thing, the one that says ‘but can be modified at any time at the discretion or authority of the police or other authorized persons’, that’s the answer – no matter what other thing you think it might be. Because if the police or authorized persons tells you to stand on your head in the middle of the tracks, with the engine running and a train coming, and livestock on all sides of the road – even though there is no ‘Canada’ sign and other signs expressly prohibiting it – you will do it. It’s ‘compulsory’. No can’s, no should’s. You will follow the authorities.

I’ve also learned a lot about how the pictures in the test have nothing, whatsoever to do with the question. When they show wild horses running all over the road, on both sides, and then ask you if you can encounter livestock on:

a) the right side of the road.

b) the left side of the road.

c) the entire road.

The answer is a). And here’s why. The picture is meant to be a fun bit of misdirection. And you’ll notice the word ‘can‘ in the question. This seems to the layman that, based on the photo and experience, of course you CAN experience livestock on all sides of the road. But you’d be wrong. Legally, you can only experience it on the right side with the flow of traffic. But remember, when you encounter livestock arbitrarily in the road you must yield to them. I plan on shouting at them ‘You’re prohibited from being here legally! The law says so!’ But of course I’d be screaming it in English so they wouldn’t understand me. Anyway – in my experience you yield to things bigger than you.

I’ve learned a bunch of other stuff too. The Spanish driving test cares a lot about depression, fatigue and both prescription and non-prescription drug use. It cares about smoking in the car and GPS use. As I sit here taking tests, Jeff has been looking over my shoulder. Sometimes he’s been helpful, at other times he’s emphatically suggested something that I know is incorrect, because I’ve encountered it before. I just chuckle – how naive he is that he thinks he understands whether you ‘can’ use your fog lights in a light drizzle – silly man. So he’s learning too. But this one particular question threw us both for a loop. Take a look at this picture. Notice there is no D) NONE!!

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Now, I can learn all the facts and figures around when I need to have my car or motorcycle inspected by the MOT/ITV. I can learn right of ways for one lane roads and urban vs. interurban areas. But HOLY MOLY! Driving a school bus after a few drinks? When was that decided it might be a) an OK idea, and after that one bad decision, b) how much they should be able to drink?! This just seems wrong. We both shook our head and then remembered that none of our kids will ever ride a Spanish school bus so that’s one more reason to sleep at night. But then I thought about the driver of our Metro train and took a gulp.

Last week, I found the street in front front of the Jefatura Provincial de Trafico, and it was festooned with places to get my medical/psychological exam to obtain my certificate. I was waiting for Jeff in a cafe and asked the woman next to me about all the clinics that were lining the street. I asked her if it was cosmetic surgery or botox or something. She laughed and explained it was for the certificate to drive in Spain. So now I know where to go. They stand outside in lab coats like hucksters so I’m thinking I can negotiate the cost. And next week I’m getting my new town hall certificate and passport sized photos for my learners permit.

I’m starting to be more sure of myself, but not cocky. There’s no room in this process for over confidence. After a little more practice and gathering my documents, I’ll make the appointment to take the test for after we’re back from Brazil in mid-November. I’m hoping I pass on the first two tries so I don’t have to take an actual course and can spend the rest of my time learning in the car. I’d like to start the new year with my new license and a new car – ready to explore more of the country. Seems like a good way to start the year!